More From the Food Culture War Front: “Team Obama Food Police” Video Attacks First Lady

by Bettina Elias Siegel on December 21, 2010

Over the weekend, the Obama Foodorama blog reported on a “Team Obama Food Police” video attacking First Lady Michelle Obama and her school food reform and anti-obesity efforts.   Obama Foodorama criticized the video, which was already going viral, as marking a new low in “unbridled hysteria and fear mongering,” and “a case study in Big Government conspiracy theory lunacy.”   But by the time I went looking for it, “Team Obama Food Police” had been taken down by its creator, “Granny Jan.”

Well, this morning I checked again and saw that the video is back up.   The funny thing is, I’m so deep in Mrs. O’s camp that I just can’t get into the heads of people who would froth at the mouth while watching “Team Obama Food Police.” Hearing clips of the First Lady’s voice exhorting kids to eat vegetables (even with ugly photos of her and “Another Brick in the Wall” played in the background) just makes me want to say, Amen, sister!

You can watch the video here:

But for all my joking about the video, it does represent one more salvo in the latest round of Food Culture Wars.  As Obama Foodorama notes:

The video  . . . . emphasizes what has now become a standard idea for critics, which is that Mrs. Obama believes that government, not parents, should make food choices for children. That idea is being promoted not only in the video and on large and small blogs, but also by high-profile conservatives with huge audiences, such as Sarah PalinGlenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, John Stossel.

The blog Civil Eats recently turned to food expert Marion Nestle to get at the root of this issue, asking her:  ”How Did Junk Food and Obesity Become a Red State/Blue State Debate?”  In her answer, Nestle points out that when we talk about food, entrenched financial and political interests are at stake:

Just think of who wins and who loses if $20 billion in annual agricultural subsidies go to small, organic vegetable producers who are part of their communities rather than to large agricultural producers who do not live anywhere near their corn and soybeans. . . .

The issue at stake is who gets to decide how food is grown and what people eat. For as long as I can remember, big agriculture and big food were in control, in close partnership with congressional agricultural committees and the USDA. Today, the food movement–democracy in action, if you will–is challenging their authority and power. No wonder defenders of the status quo don’t like the challenge. It is only to be expected that they are fighting back.

And a recent Washington Post article pointed out that turning food into a class war issue is a way to “make nice with the fast-food industry, which has donated generously to the GOP.”

But it seems to me that more is at work here than the entrenched interests of the fast food and agricultural industries. Many of the First Lady’s most vociferous detractors, including people like Granny Jan, presumably have no direct ties to either.

My sense is that we’ve hit upon a perfect storm of sorts:  the financial interests of Big Agriculture and Big Food are part if it, surely, but we also have a society in which, as Marion Nestle noted,  [j]unk food and obesity are key indicators of political divisions in our society. For starters, junk food is cheap and obesity is more common among low-income populations.”  In addition, we have a President who has been easily portrayed by his opponents as a champion of Big Government, determined to trample on individual freedoms (as well as pedantic and elitist), while Michelle Obama is portrayed as harsh and militant.

Add to all of that the basic human impulse to eat stuff that’s not great for us (and to resent people who tell us to do otherwise) and it’s no wonder that (as the Washington Post piece put it) “‘Don’t let them take away your Big Mac!’ becomes a rallying cry.”

[Ed. Update:  The food-culture war is so hot these days, a poor blogger can't keep up.  Two more items of interest from just this morning:  from Slate, "Field of Greens: The Dreaded Broccoli Uprising and Other Freaky GOP Nightmares," [hat tip: Christina Le Beau of Spoonfed] and from Obama Foodorama, “Sarah Palin Trashed for Michelle Obama Bash.“]

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

barbara December 21, 2010 at 11:31 am

Just have to tell you that I asked my boys (5 and 10) to watch the video after explaining that I admire Mrs. Obama and believe she is doing amazing work but that some people disagree with her. Their response after watching was that they agreed with her, her dinner table rules sounded like ours and my 5-year-old asked for some fresh veggies for a snack. Take that Granny Jan!

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bettina elias siegel December 21, 2010 at 11:56 am

Love it!

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Em December 21, 2010 at 1:37 pm

My lunch today: a big salad with broccoli, red onion, roasted turnips, garbazo beans, and quinoa, with a slice of homemade whole wheat bread. Verdict: socialism is delicious.

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bettina elias siegel December 21, 2010 at 2:31 pm
Renee December 21, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Wow, there are so many offensive things about that video –but none of them are coming from Michelle Obama’s mouth. It surprises me that they retained her speech in the video, since it counter-acts all the obnoxious words and pictures. It makes me kind of sad to think that with all the important battles to fight, someone would waste time making such a video. Why would anyone, such as Palin, spend time and energy against such an inoffensive campaign?

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bettina elias siegel December 21, 2010 at 2:31 pm

That was my reaction, too! When she goes into that long riff toward the end about parents caring about what their kids eat (parents, not the government!), I was thinking, gee, THIS is the worst you can come up with?

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NotCinderell February 4, 2011 at 1:54 pm

BTW, the video ha moved here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDDTIj8JB6M
The current account that’s showing this video deletes any comments that don’t parrot the viewpoint of the video.

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